This Newport-born foodie has returned (close to) home after being taught by London’s very best. But his choice of venue may surprise you… Jonathan Swain gets the lowdown on Tom Waters’ Gorse pop-up at Ground Bakery.
Some of the most refined cooking in the area at the moment is happening in a Cardiff café-bakery. Chef Tom Waters was born in Newport but made his name in England under acclaimed Welsh chef Bryn Williams (Odette’s), before a period under highly-regarded chef Phil Howard at a two Michelin-starred level. He went on to join the renowned Bonhams in Mayfair, and most recently became part of the leadership team at Heston Blumenthal’s world-famous Fat Duck.
A far cry from this to a coffee shop, then? It’s yet another story of pandemic reassessment and readjustment. Waters returned to Wales in March 2021 with plans to open a restaurant in the capital. With well-publicised and obvious national issues forcing a rethink, he decided to launch a series of pop-ups. This brings us to Gorse and its current home, Ground in Pontcanna. The venue is a vote of confidence in itself: Ground’s owner, Tom Simmons, is one of the capital’s most respected chefs. Waters works alone in the kitchen, single-handedly preparing and serving an eight-course menu to just 18 covers per night.
But what makes Gorse different? “The food is all about speaking to a time and a place,” he tells me; “using the best in and around Wales and combined that with interesting flavours and techniques, different to anything else locally.” That’s what makes Gorse tick.
Chefs at this level invariably use these kind of buzzwords, but here it carries actual weight. That means obsessive travelling all around the country, especially to Pembrokeshire and its natural bounty, like Cornwall is to England. This yields fish from Milford Haven, Welsh cheeses, seaweed butter for his fast-becoming-a-local-legend buttermilk roll, or aged duck with Jerusalem artichoke.
A post-pandemic trend has seen many more refined menus limit their ability and willingness to accommodate preferences and dietary needs. Not here. Waters acknowledges the challenges, while accessibility is forefront. “It’s definitely more work for us,” he laughs. “But I want Gorse to be about people enjoying themselves and having a great time. It’s not about ‘you the chef’: you just want people to leave having had a good time.” Whether you are vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian or gluten-free, there’s a feeling he’s more interested in feeding you well than in playing it safe for the sake of his ego and convenience. “Food should be inclusive,” he continues, which means creating that elusive sense of occasion for all diners, no matter their restrictions or preferences.
What’s next, then? Waters still has his sights set on his original plans: the perfect Gorse bricks and mortar outlet for his cooking. “I’d like it to have an ‘open’ feel, like your kitchen or living room,” he says. “At Ground, the glass window breaks down the barrier between the kitchen and dining room. That kind of feeling.”
Tom Waters’ progress will be one to watch. Until then, his Gorse residency at Ground will run every Friday and Saturday night for the foreseeable future.
Ground Bakery, Pontcanna, Cardiff.
Info: 029 2116 7850 / gorserestaurant.co.uk
words JONATHAN SWAIN
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